How Magnolia Park become pop-punk’s new hellraisers

Guitarists Tristan Torres and Freddie Criales talk riffing with OG pop-punk influences, the drive to crush on-stage stereotypes, and the band’s ghoulish new release, Halloween Mixtape II.

Magnolia Park, photo by Jonathan Weiner

Magnolia Park. Image: Jonathan Weiner

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Magnolia Park are on the move — well, sort of. Since their debut in 2019, the Orlando 5-piece (vocalist Joshua Roberts, drummer Joe Horsham, Vincent Ernst on keys and guitarists Tristan Torres and Freddie Criales) have been on the rise, bringing their emo-flecked rock-pop tunes to the American alternative scene. At first, the band’s music might sound like frothy feel-good anthems striving to stretch the parameters of soft-punk. Their style pulls from all directions, borrowing inspiration from Blink-182 to Jimi Hendrix, jamming sing-along choruses alongside pummelling drumming patterns; a distorted mix-and-match sound they’ve made their signature. As for now, they’ve signed to Epitaph Records, pulled in over 950,000 loyal listeners on Spotify and, lately, been carving up the touring circuit across the U.S.

It’s early afternoon and duo guitarists Tristan Torres and Freddie Criales are tightly folded in a white multi-seater van as the band takes a much-needed pit stop. Having dropped their rough and ready new project, Halloween Mixtape II, the duo are eager to share their new monster rock vision with as many fans as possible.

Magnolia Park, photo by Jonathan Weiner
Magnolia Park. Image: Jonathan Weiner

Magnolia Park’s latest release highlights the band’s commitment to stoking the pop-punk flames, but they angle, subtly, for something different. On Animal, Roberts, rap-rock internet star Ryan Ross and EDM-emo PLVTINUM (Michael Turner), Torres and Criales dial up the heat on the all-or-nothing screamo banger. Everything is cranked up on the new mixtape: bigger lyrical swings and strokes at putting down a musical moment. “I hope people are noticing how Freddy and I flow between genres seamlessly,” Torres says over Zoom. “We do each run at a high level, especially during Animal and during the Do or Die breakdowns.”

Learning from their past full-length releases – Halloween Mixtape and Baku’s Revenge – the band’s new era is seeking out a more urgent sound, something grander than trap-rap lyrical loops. On occasion, it works; their mixtape scopes out the treats within the fiendish tricks. While, at times, their discography can feel like a Y2K jukebox of templated medlies. For any new band, they recognise it, it’s part of the growth and a lesson to be learned.

“We’re making a major effort by going through [music] history and finding the heaviest riffs we can and trying to emulate those,” Torres explains. “We work primarily to offer inspiration.” While the band are smoothing out their sound, originality and image are locked in. Since they hit the airwaves, Magnolia Park has had a distinct image: vibrant artwork and ghoulish cartoon-like illustrations mark their every release – welcome to Magnolia Park’s eerie fictional universe. Inhibited by Tim Burton-style creatures (also referred to as “characters”) Baku, Heart Eater, SoulEater, Dream Eater, MoonEater, Pumpkin Eater, and the Reaper, come to life in their recent mixtape emo medley.

Nu noise

In recent years, Magnolia Park have fallen in line with a handful of up-and-coming guitar-driven acts, including Meet Me @ The Altar, Action/Adventure and Pinkshift, who peddle their own version of rock, knotting up new grooves and funky beats to make their own genre of smashed-up energetic sounds. Spanning hyper trap to emo, the guitarist and team songwriters try to bring in as many styles as possible.

“We’re adding all our influences into this one pot which is under the umbrella of pop-punk and emo,” Torres says, “On the newer albums, you’ll hear nu-metal riffs and sometimes a Neck Deep-inspired bounciness so it’s very diverse.”

As for where their dizzying hybrid sound can take them, the duo immediately hark back to the bands they grew up around who are now making it big. “There’s definitely a new music scene. A lot of bands that have blown up from here and a lot of new generation bands – Meet Me @ The Altar and I Met A Yeti — who we were all friends with growing up, which was cool,” Torres says. The growing alternative scene, across the US, has pulled in new talent and boasted a new wave of music. For Torres and Criales, this signals a new move for the industry, both of them crediting acts like NOFX and El Hefe as their early flag bearers.

“These bands made it more okay for people to like us. Freddie and I are Hispanic and the more you see, the more it’s normalised. I think that helps more people,” Torres says. Lack of visibility isn’t something Magnolia Park steers away from either. On their full-throttle track Don’t Be Racist, the band package clear-cut lyrics and tidy beats for a message that leaves no room for misinterpretation.

“Hopefully, the next generation of artists don’t have to deal with the racism and the industry hurdles we have to go through,” Torres reflects. “We’re speaking about a lot of our songs and Don’t Be Racist was a response to the music industry, big corporations, and there’s a lot of issues, today, in our state of Florida – it’s very backwards. We want to talk about that and we think it’s helping.”

Magnolia Park, photo by Jonathan Weiner
Magnolia Park. Image: Jonathan Weiner

Music Memories

Making music with a lasting message isn’t the only ethos that has stuck with the guitarists. The duo both have a fondness for their instrument and the punk-rock dreams it can help realise. “I look fondly on my first guitar. It was a terrible guitar, the strings always broke, it would pop in my eyes,” Criales laughs. His second-hand black and white sticker-studded Squier might not have been perfect but for $70, what more can you ask for?

“It was always out of tune and actually didn’t even work. I tried giving up playing it twice but I kept coming back to it,” he says. “I look at that guitar with some good memories. It really suits me and how I try hard for things.” As for Torres, his guitar connects to two things: Magnolia Park’s beginnings and his girlfriend. When he first joined the band, he and his partner were envisioning the group’s creative identity. “We were making band characters, like Baku, at the time and she helped me make a guitar specific to our 2021 EP Dream Eater,” he explains. “I always saw my heroes making their guitars unique to them so it was a special moment.”

From first-time guitar failings to aesthetic equipment, Torres and Criales have grown with their fond guitar memories. The band’s new direction showcases a new spin of “genre-blending” sounds, mixing funk, nu-metal and “heavier” stylings. It’s not all about sonics, either — the pair are ready to upgrade their kit as well as their guitar moves.

“We both play strats (Stratocaster) and teles (Telecaster), but Fender is great and they have a ton of different models,” Torres says. “We’re gonna start tuning to C because we always played in C Sharp and then drop to hit that emo blend. We saw all our favourite emo bands doing that. Now we want to hit that because our music is getting heavier.”

Magnolia Park, photo by Jonathan Weiner
Magnolia Park. Image: Jonathan Weiner

Kings (and queens) of rock

So, what major plans do Magnolia Park have lined up? Well, outside of having another album in the pipeline, Torres and Criales are ready to spec out their current set-up. “We want to get a whammy pedal,” Criales says. “Right now I’m using an octave pedal that has options where you can do a semitone or a whole step, but I put it on the octave option to make it sound heavy. We also need to get some heavier guitars.”

New ideas and long-lasting rock influences have gotten Torres and Criales where they are today. Taking a riff from Queens of the Stone Age, the duo are ready to amp up their performances. “They’re my favourite band and are super guitarists. Between Troy Van Leeuwen, Josh Homme and Dean Fertita, they have three guitars on stage and all these Moog pedals — they go all out,” Torres says. “I want to upgrade so all our parts sound as diverse as theirs because we play a lot of different styles.”

Now, looking ahead, Magnolia Park are sure about one thing: making moody music no matter the cost. Whether it’s the band cashing in all they’ve got for studio time or cramming into a white van in the heat, they’re ready to give their all to make the band work out. As far as Torres and Criales are concerned, it’s all about finding what works for themselves and the band. “It’s not all about riffing,” Criales advises. Instead, it’s about finding an emo-rock groove that works for you and sticking with it – “It’s also about instrumentation and the minor details that go into a song, and that’s a pretty important thing to understand about guitars.”

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